In 2015 I decided to start a program to help kids living in poverty here go to school and succeed academically. I now realize that, at that time, I did not fully understand the many barriers to education that so many young people here face. When I learned that an estimated 60% of the young people in Rocky Point do not get to go to high school, I was shocked and confused. I knew that Mexico has a public-school system and I assumed that it was much like ours in the United States – free through 12th grade and accessible no matter a family’s financial situation. However, I quickly began to appreciate the differences in our public-school systems and the many barriers that kids in Mexico at all grade levels face when trying to go to school. Here is what I learned:
HIGH SCHOOL: Unlike in the United States, in Mexico public school is not free through 12th grade. Beginning in high school students must pay for registration, tuition, books, transportation, and uniforms and these costs are very expensive relative to local wages. Even students whose parents can somehow pay for high school often lack access to resources that are critical for academic success in older grades: school supplies, transportation, access to technology and tutoring in subjects they may struggle with.
GRADE SCHOOL: Although the Mexican constitution guarantees a ‘free’ public school education through grade school, I have learned that ‘free’ does not necessarily mean accessible – especially for children living in poverty. Some of the barriers to education that younger children face include lack of transportation, nobody in the home who can help with homework, lack of adequate food or shelter, lack of access to medical care, the need to work to help support the family, and even lack of a birth certificate.
OUR MODEL: My local team and I realized early on that, to be successful long-term, this program would need to be holistic in nature. We understood that a young person cannot effectively learn and reach their potential if their basic needs are not met consistently. So, unlike a traditional ‘scholarship’, our program provides much more than one-time funding to pay for direct educational expenses. Our students are followed throughout the school year by a local professional team that ensures that they have the ongoing resources and support they need to succeed academically. By the end of last year, we were supporting 588 students and our program was in full swing and thriving.
THE COVID CRISIS: Since this pandemic hit Rocky Point forcing schools to close, it has left countless local students in crisis. Until they can return to in-person learning, the 588 students we support and hundreds more throughout the community are facing unprecedented barriers to education. Unfortunately, for most of them, no access to remote learning means no hope for a better future.
THE GIFT OF EDUCATION: Before COVID-19, education was the best chance these young people had to escape poverty. It still is. So, this Christmas our focus will be on giving as many students as possible the gift of education. Currently our local team is delivering daily meals, access to technology and other critical resources to hundreds of students in need throughout the community.
OUR HOLIDAY WISH: This holiday season rather than donating toys or other gifts please consider:
1) Making a one-time donation to our ‘Supporting Students in Crisis’ fund or sponsoring a student monthly at www.stepsoflove.org
2) Donating items from our School Supply Wish List
GRACIAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!